Classical review: The Hebrides Ensemble and Max, Kirkwall

The Hebrides Ensemble and Max | Rating: **** | St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall
The Hebrides Ensemble and Max. Picture: stmagnusfestival.comThe Hebrides Ensemble and Max. Picture:
The Hebrides Ensemble and Max. Picture:

It was a poignant occasion at St Magnus Cathedral on Thursday evening. In a concert simply entitled Hebrides Ensemble and Max, the virtuoso players paid tribute to Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, the composer who died earlier this year.

That he wasn’t there to hear such a performance in the festival he founded 40 years ago was a sore miss, but he was certainly present in spirit. The special relationship between composer and ensemble was marked with three pieces by Maxwell Davies. Two, originally from the 1970s for his own ensemble, the Fires of London, were testimony to the everlasting genius of his music.

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His Renaissance Scottish Dances were light-footed with a fresh spring in their steps, sparkling off the page like the famed twinkle of Max’s eyes.

Again looking to original Scottish music to present anew with his own voice, Max’s arrangement of 17th-century William Kinloch’s Fantassie was a delight, 
particularly the addition of fluttering glockenspiel. A Max/Hebrides programme always welcomes the new and this time it was John Gourlay’s aptly titled Midsummer Sunrise receiving its premiere.

Scored for violin, cello, clarinet and piano, it is bold and angular, yet melismatic and mysterious – a hugely striking piece from a Scottish composer who should be heard more often. As ever, Hebrides can be relied on for blue-chip performance, Messiaen’s Theme and Variations for violin and piano from Zoe Beyers and Philip Moore being especially outstanding.